LUNCH WITH THE FT – CAR­LO AN­CE­LOT­TI BETTER CALL CAR­LO

La Presse Business (Tunisia) - - CONTENTS - By Ja­nan Ga­nesh

He is the coach Eu­rope’s elite foot­ball clubs hire when they want to win tro­phies. Over me­lan­zane in May­fair - and a glass of grap­pa - the food-lo­ving Ita­lian talks to Ja­nan Ga­nesh about ma­na­ging ga­lac­tic egos and how big bu­si­nesses like his new club Bayern Mu­nich can still be a fa­mi­ly

Ger­man is the har­dest lan­guage.” Ba­va­ria-bound Car­lo An­ce­lot­ti re­mem­bers the re­la­tive doddle of En­glish, Spa­nish and French when he grapples with the sna­king com­pound nouns of his new home. “And the verbs,” he groans, “so­me­times they go in the se­cond po­si­tion in a sen­tence, and then again at the end.” He puffs out his cheeks and - there it is - raises the ar­ced left eye­brow that is the most ce­le­bra­ted fea­ture on his Fe­de­ri­co Fel­li­ni face. Even in the bland li­ve­ry of suc­cess­ful men - na­vy ja­cket, tie­less pale-blue shirt - the 56-year-old Ita­lian foot­ball coach is dis­tinc­tive en­ough to ob­viate any need for a ca­ri­ca­ture. This sum­mer Bayern Mu­nich joins Ju­ven­tus, Mi­lan, Chel­sea, Pa­ris Saint-Ger­main and Real Ma­drid as the sixth Eu­ro­pean su­per-club to sub­mit to his lea­der­ship. He will ar­rive from Van­cou­ver - where he has a home with his Ca­na­dian wife, Ma­riann - and he will win ma­jor prizes. We know this be­cause he al­ways does. The hand that shakes mine at Bab­bo, an Ita­lian res­tau­rant of his choo­sing in May­fair, has lif­ted the Cham­pions League tro­phy th­ree times. It is a re­cord in the mo­dern his­to­ry of Eu­rope’s hi­ghest com­pe­ti­tion. He has pros­pe­red in four coun­tries. Stee­ped in glo­ry, lo­ved by players for his light touch, he is pro­ba­bly the most co­ve­ted coach in the world. He is al­so the on­ly one you can ima­gine choo­sing a club by the lo­cal res­tau­rants. Food plays the ca­meo in most Lunches with the FT but An­ce­lot­ti, a gour­mand, makes it cen­tral to this one. My re­solve to or­der light­ly - I usual­ly avoid day­time ea­ting al­to­ge­ther - melts in the glare of his keen­ness. We ask for some star­ters to share, of which the best-jud­ged is a ba­ked au­ber­gine me­lan­zane with a layer of cheese that knocks the ad­ja­cent plate of bur­ra­ta into apo­lo­ge­tic ir­re­le­vance. “You like Ita­lian food?” he checks, and I nod, de­ci­ding not to sell him on the su­per­io­ri­ty of Spa­nish. Bab­bo is tech­ni­cal­ly su­perb but ve­ry May­fair. Four old wo­men in pearls and taf­fe­ta sit near us, two hed­gies of in­de­ter­mi­nate na­tio­na­li­ty squint at my guest bet­ween mou­th­fuls from the other side of the room. I give him the name of an ed­gier trat­to­ria in Is­ling­ton and he rolls it around his mouth a few times as if com­mit­ting it to me­mo­ry. This is a man who tit­led his au­to­bio­gra­phy Pre­fe­ris­co La Cop­pa, which de­clares an am­bi­tion for tro­phies and a taste for ham in one th­ree-word pun.

Ita­lians can be uns­wer­vin­gly fai­th­ful to the pro­duce of their re­gion but An­ce­lot­ti, who grew up in Emi­lia-Ro­ma­gna in the north, veers as far as next-door Tus­ca­ny for his wine. He sum­mons a bot­tle of Gui­dal­ber­to “I don’t need to try it, I know this wine” - a blend of Ca­ber­net Sau­vi­gnon and Mer­lot that mi­mics the strength of cla­ret wi­thout zap­ping you into a thou­sand-night co­ma. For An­ce­lot­ti, foot­ball clubs are ei­ther “fa­mi­lies”, such as AC Mi­lan, or “com­pa­nies”, of which Ju­ven­tus is a pur­ring example. With his ge­nial style, his culti­va­tion of per­so­nal bonds with players and di­rec­tors, it is clear which he pre­fers. Sil­vio Ber­lus­co­ni ran Mi­lan as a pa­triarch, in­vol­ving him­self in­ti­ma­te­ly with tech­ni­cal mat­ters. The Agnel­li fa­mi­ly, which still owns Juve, pre­fer­red to put sys­tems in place and keep it­self in re­serve for stra­te­gic judg­ments. As he raises his glass, I ask him to ca­te­go­rise Bayern. “I have not had so ma­ny mee­tings with them but I think it is a fa­mi­ly,” he says, per­haps san­gui­ne­ly of an ins­ti­tu­tion that is part-ow­ned by Au­di, Adi­das and Al­lianz. “They have for­mer players on the board. The club is 70 per cent ow­ned by mem­bers.” It is cer­tain­ly cor­po­rate in its ruth­less pur­suit of players. I won­der who he rates among the nascent ta­lents of world foot­ball and that eye­brow vaults up again. “I can­not tell you on the re­cord be­cause the price will go up,” he says, be­fore na­ming tee­na­gers from France and Bra­zil, even ta­king out his phone to show me the lat­ter. “Don’t tell Ar­sène Wen­ger!” He is more can­did about the es­ta­bli­shed greats he has al­rea­dy ma­na­ged. There is special af­fec­tion for Cris­tia­no Ro­nal­do, a self-mo­ti­va­ting near-cy­borg who took 3am ice baths in Real Ma­drid’s trai­ning com­plex. “Even though he had Iri­na Shayk wai­ting for him at home!” An­ce­lot­ti yelps, re­fer­ring to the Por­tu­guese’s for­mer lo­ver. “He does not care about mo­ney, he just wants to be the first” - mea­ning the best. Other fa­vou­red sons in­clude An­drea Pir­lo, who played the mid­field role An­ce­lot­ti him­self held down for Mi­lan and Ita­ly in the 1980s, and the coun­try’s de­co­ra­ted goal­kee­per Gi­gi Buf­fon (“I found him at 17 in the Par­ma aca­de­my”). We have both or­de­red the lobs­ter main course. The dish turns out to be a fille­ted hunk of the crus­ta­cean atop a mo­rass of ta­glio­li­ni. Like all the best pas­ta, it is mo­reish for rea­sons of tex­ture ra­ther than taste. Ha­ving no potent fla­vour to vie with, An­ce­lot­ti’s choice of wine sud­den­ly comes into its own. It is as though he does this a lot. Be­fore our lunch, I test An­ce­lot­ti’s name on friends who care lit­tle or nought for foot­ball but know their Jo­sé Mou­rin­ho from their Pep Guar­dio­la. Most had ne­ver heard of him. Two as­su­med I meant Clau­dio Ra­nie­ri of Lei­ces­ter Ci­ty. One knew the name but could not place the face. His lack of cut-through which, like all things in life, fails to trouble this equable soul - owes eve­ry­thing to the brand of quiet lea­der­ship that is al­so the name of his new ma­na­ge­ment book. Most elite coaches to­day are in­cen­dia­ry. There is Die­go Si­meone at At­lé­ti­co Ma­drid, with his ban­dit chic. Li­ver­pool contains, just about, the white heat of Jür­gen Klopp’s en­thu­siasm. Guar­dio­la is brin­ging his Ras­pu­tin in­ten­si­ty from Bayern to Man­ches­ter Ci­ty. An­ce­lot­ti has none of this. “My cha­rac­ter is quiet,” he says quiet­ly. “It is be­cause of my fa­mi­ly. My fa­ther was quiet. He ne­ver shou­ted. He ne­ver ki­cked me. My mo­ther al­so. That is the fun­da­men­tal rea­son.” His book des­cribes a ma­na­ger who nudges more than he pushes, of­ten going along with conclu­sions rea­ched in­de­pen­dent­ly by his players ins­tead of man­da­ting his own. Lea­ders wi­thin a squad are, he be­lieves, “cho­sen by the group, not the ma­na­ger or the pre­sident”, and the Dutch­man Cla­rence See­dorf was one of these na­tu­ral cha­rac­ters at Mi­lan. Du­ring his time there, An­ce­lot­ti had to cram a ga­laxy of ta­lent into four mid­field po­si­tions. With gentle she­pher­ding from him, the players thought them­selves into the “dia­mond” for­ma­tion - with Pir­lo at its base, the Bra­zi­lian Kaká at its tip, and See­dorf and Ma­nuel Rui Cos­ta, a la­vi­sh­ly gif­ted Por­tu­guese, ei­ther side - that glea­med on the Eu­ro­pean stage. Bet­ween sips, I ask whe­ther he feels un­der-exal­ted, at least out­side the game’s co­gnos­cen­ti. “You have pos­si­bi­li­ties to be an­gry eve­ry single day,” he says. “But the hap­pi­ness is not in the cre­dit, it is in the work, in the re­la­tion­ship with the players, with the staff. I don’t wor­ry what they put in news­pa­pers.” Lots of people in pu­blic life say that last sen­tence. An­ce­lot­ti means it. If any­thing, obs­cu­ri­ty means pri­va­cy, es­pe­cial­ly in Ca­na­da. Even af­ter de­cades in the Ita­lian coun­try­side and Eu­rope’s great ci­ties, he is thrown by Van­cou­ver’s gor­geous set­ting. “The beach, the moun­tains . . . ” He does not take ma­te­rial com­fort for gran­ted. The An­ce­lot­ti fa­mi­ly wor­ked, but did not own, the farm on which he was rai­sed, tur­ning out slabs of Par­me­san cheese to a gra­te­ful world. Ru­ral life left him with a dis­cri­mi­na­ting pa­late (he has a men­tal map of Ita­lian res­tau­rants worth a damn in Lon­don, Pa­ris, Van­cou­ver and Ma­drid) and a dia­lect that can stump his own coun­try­men.

Foot­ball-bar­my in the Ita­lian way, he laun­ched his ca­reer as a tac­ti­cal­ly as­tute mid­fiel­der at near­by Par­ma. From there he went to Ro­ma, in the ca­pi­tal, which could have been Sa­turn for this coun­try boy. A knee in­ju­ry put him out of the 1982 World Cup that Ita­ly won but no bit­ter­ness lin­gers, just gra­ti­tude for a ca­reer that sur­vi­ved. “You are 23 and you don’t know if you can play again,” he re­calls with a wince. “The phy­si­cal the­ra­py was ter­rible in those days.” In 1987, An­ce­lot­ti made the move that chan­ged his life. A fi­gure of fun cal­led Ar­ri­go Sac­chi brought him to Mi­lan. Un­til then, Ita­lians had fa­vou­red a de­fen­sive mode of play cal­led ca­te­nac­cio. “It means this,” he says, tap­ping the lock on a door next to our table. Sac­chi sma­shed con­ven­tion by drilling his players to chal­lenge for the ball - or “press” - high up the field, for­cing op­po­nents into er­rors and ex­ploi­ting them with a le­thal batch of im­por­ted for­wards such as the Dutch great Mar­co van Bas­ten. An­ce­lot­ti was the point of fixi­ty in this swarm, which do­mi­na­ted Eu­rope and still ins­pires mo­dern coaches. Sac­chi tur­ned out to be no joke. His pres­sing game is vi­sible to­day from Li­ver­pool to Mu­nich. Some of the most in-de­mand players are mid­fiel­ders who sel­dom score or as­sist but have the sang­froid and close-control to re­tain the ball un­der in­tense pres­sure. Clubs have up­gra­ded their fit­ness and condi­tio­ning re­gimes to sus­tain the phy­si­cal ef­fort Sac­chi-ism de­mands. As a player at Mi­lan, An­ce­lot­ti ser­ved as an on-field conduit for these vi­sions. A deep-lying mid­fiel­der must think sys­te­mic thoughts about the game, like a coach. Af­ter a sea­son or two in the po­si­tion, a fu­ture in ma­na­ge­ment is vir­tual­ly hard-wi­red. Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, Si­meone and Guar­dio­la mas­te­red ver­sions of the role as players. Sure en­ough, af­ter hel­ping Sac­chi steer Ita­ly to the 1994 World Cup fi­nal, An­ce­lot­ti re­tur­ned to his roots to start his own coa­ching ca­reer: first with Reg­gia­na, then Par­ma. Suc­cess took him to Ju­ven­tus and the lof­ty eche­lon of clubs from which he has ne­ver stoo­ped since. There was Mi­lan, where he clin­ched two of his Cham­pions Leagues and as­sem­bled that lu­mi­nous mid­field. Then Chel­sea, where he won the league and cup double in his first sea­son. Then Pa­ris Saint-Ger­main, where he won the league and im­po­sed pro­fes­sio­nal stan­dards on a club that had more am­bi­tion than know-how (“There was no res­tau­rant for the players”). And then, two years ago, la de­ci­ma - a tenth Cham­pions League for Real Ma­drid, and a hat-trick for An­ce­lot­ti. No tac­ti­cal re­vo­lu­tions, no psy­cho­lo­gi­cal ploys, no me­mo­rable quotes,

just fric­tion­less suc­cess in all of Eu­rope’s ma­jor leagues. There is no re­cord quite like it. Zla­tan Ibra­hi­mo­vic, a player who sur­ren­ders com­pli­ments as though they singe his throat, says An­ce­lot­ti is the best coach in the world. On the sub­ject of ga­lac­tic egos, how does a quiet man bend them to his will? “There are things where you can be elas­tic,” he ex­plains, “and things where you must be strong. If the players say ‘Coach, we have a tough week, can we stay in bed one more hour?’ that is OK. But when I have a mee­ting be­fore the game, you must be on time. At Chel­sea, we had a mee­ting at 10.30am and [Di­dier] Drog­ba was not there. I don’t know if it was traf­fic or what. He came at 11. He didn’t play.” What An­ce­lot­ti lacks in fire, he more than co­vers with deep, deep sa­ni­ty. Quiet lea­der­ship, to judge by the book and his per­so­nal man­ner, is less a tech­nique than a dis­po­si­tion, an au­ra. By stan­ding still in foot­ball’s storm of hype and cu­pi­di­ty, he reas­sures players. He coaches like he played, al­ways pro­vi­ding that fixed point from which others can do spec­ta­cu­lar things. The Chel­sea squad of 2010 was not so dif­ferent to the one that fell short in the pre­vious th­ree sea­sons. The ta­lent was there. An­ce­lot­ti got out of its way. The cri­ti­cism is that, like a less pro­vo­ca­tive Mou­rin­ho, he is ul­ti­ma­te­ly a hi­red gun. He slides into great clubs, wins prizes com­men­su­rate with their sta­tion and moves on wi­thout lea­ving his im­print. He is not associated with a style of play like Guar­dio­la, or with a lit­ter of young­sters he nur­tu­red to great­ness, like Klopp in his stint at Bo­rus­sia Dort­mund. He is cu­rious­ly iden­ti­ty-less, like a res­tau­rant in May­fair. Maybe that is what it takes to live an iti­ne­rant life. He has gone far­ther, seen more, than his rus­tic roots ever pro­mi­sed. I press him for his fa­vou­rite post­ing. “France is dif­fi­cult be­cause foot­ball is not al­ways num­ber one. They have rug­by and cy­cling. They al­so have some vio­lence in PSG. En­gland has the best at­mos­phere, the best sta­diums and no vio­lence,” he says. Des­pite lea­ving Ita­ly se­ven years ago, the di­sor­der and ve­ge­ta­ting in­fra­struc­ture bligh­ting parts of its league, which was Eu­rope’s best as re­cent­ly as the 1990s, still pains him. “En­gland is dif­ferent. When I was with Chel­sea, we went to play up in Sun­der­land. The bus could not drive all the way to the en­trance. So the se­cu­ri­ty man from the sta­dium says, ‘It’s OK, get out and walk.’ I say, ‘No, I don’t go!’ There were Sun­der­land fans all around. Af­ter some time, we had to do it.” And it was OK? “It was per­fect. Some fans took pic­tures. No trouble. I ne­ver re­cei­ved an in­sult in En­gland, ever.” We ask for es­pres­sos in lieu of des­sert but, be­fore the wai­ter can re­treat, An­ce­lot­ti has an idea. “You like grap­pa?” Yes, Car­lo. So what be­gan as an as­ce­tic de­nial of a su­gar rush has tur­ned into a spread of caf­feine hits, pe­tits fours and Ita­ly’s ans­wer to sher­ry. I try to pay but An­ce­lot­ti has al­rea­dy ar­ran­ged so­me­thing with the pro­prie­tor. How quiet. How ef­fec­tive.

Newspapers in French

Newspapers from Tunisia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.